Pat Buchanan, the former presidential candidate and long-time contributor to MSNBC, has been formally let go from the network four months after he was suspended following the publication of Suicide of a Superpower, a book MSNBC president Phil Griffin had said should not “be part of the national dialogue, much less part of the dialogue on MSNBC.”
Suicide of a Superpower may have been more shocking because it pulled so many of Buchanan’s ideas into one place, but the concepts that Buchanan espoused on MSNBC and in his other writings for years were hardly a constructive part of the national conversation: my colleague Adam Peck’s detailed some of most shocking statements here. In 2006, he said that accusing then-Rep. Harold Ford of sexual laciviousness wasn’t racially coded because he “is a guy that likes Playboy bunnies. Almost all of them are white.” He suggested that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi were soft on inappropriate sexual advances towards Congressional pages because they’d marched in gay pride parades with the North American Man-Boy Love Association. On Chris Matthews’ show, Buchanan described immigration as a purposeful invasion of American soil. Off-network, he suggested that Anders Breivik, who committed last summer’s terrible terrorist attack in Norway may have been correct about the threat of a multi-cultural and multi-faith Europe.
In addition to being reprehensible, these ideas don’t display any sort of creative thinking or coherent worldview on policy or politics. They just represent an overarching fear of difference, and an attempt to legitimate ugly knee-jerk reactions. Even if you leave out the ugly conclusions Buchanan reached, it’s not clear why this quality of political thought and constant default to stereotype without analysis are valuable, worthy of not just the salary but the status that comes with a contributor position at MSNBC. Surely that money could have been spent elevating talented and creative thinkers for whom a slot on MSNBC would be a blessing, rather than Buchanan, who had his post by virtue of his run for president rather than any ongoing contributions. But then, when it comes to conservatives, perhaps Buchanan’s the best MSNBC could sign up given the competition from Fox News, which has a tendency to lock up conservative superstars quickly, leaving MSNBC to pick from the Michael Steeles of the wannabe conservative commentariat.
Buchanan’s tenure at MSNBC seems like a warning about trying to balance out a group of reasonable liberals with a single contributor or a small group of wildly conservative commentators. Maybe the virulence of his views was inoculate the network from demands that they bring on more conservative contributors. But that risk doesn’t seem worth it if it means keeping alive views after the American consensus rejected them. It would be unfortunate if MSNBC slowed that process by keeping Buchanan on the air for a decade even after the political mainstream recognized his ideas for what they were.